Marilyn Albright approached her first tutoring position at Kenai Peninsula College with trepidation: How do you teach a person who's never spoken English, never read English, doesn't understand English, to speak English? Where do you start?
"(Tutors) need a lot of patience and a sense of humor," she said. "Try to put yourself in that person's place."
After almost 10 years of tutoring students, Albright, an English as a Second Language (ESL) instructor for KPC, understands what reading, writing and speaking English does for someone trying to get an education or find work in his or her community, but she also knows the difficulty of learning a new language.
"I've (tutored) enough now it's a lot easier to find out what the person knows," she said. "I start by asking people questions. If they don't know I can go from there. If they don't really have verbal skills I start with visual (tools)."
Even though Albright, who earned a teaching degree in 1969 but hadn't taught school since 1981, is an adjunct professor at KPC now, her experience as an ESL tutor began as a volunteer for the college's literacy program in 1998. She had been taking an online teaching class and one of the projects was to teach an adult to read.
"I came here as part of the class," she said. "I tutored a young man from China. I really liked it and just started volunteering."
KPC's Learning Center is currently seeking a few more like Albright who want to use their skills to help others learn to read and write English. Mary Bell, an AmeriCorp volunteer for the Learning Center, said the center is seeking volunteers to teach school-age children to read, get adults ready for their GED and teach ESL.
"We have a number of different areas that we tutor in," Bell said. Many tutors are retired teachers who help students with math, English or chemistry. Even though most tutoring sessions take place at the Learning Center, volunteers will often tutor at local schools or peoples' homes.
"There's a lot of people with a lot of expertise and there's a lot of people willing to help," she said, adding that tutoring sessions are generally one on one, but many volunteers, a math tutor in particular, will tutor two or three, or even small groups, at the same time. "We're pretty versatile. We try to work with the student and with the teacher."
The Learning Center will hold an orientation for those who are interested in volunteering today at 3 p.m. and again at 6 p.m. in room 153 at KPC. Bell said tutors will have a chance to fill out an application and undergo a quick training session on eligibility. Volunteers must be at least 16 years old, have a 12th-grade reading and writing level and be willing to commit one hour a week of tutoring, Bell said.
"We'll look through all of our students and adult basic education people that need tutoring in specific areas and we'll go to the volunteers," she said. "We match up our tutors with the people that are needing tutoring."
As an AmeriCorp member, Bell earns a small stipend and a grant toward college classes for volunteering at the Learning Center. After taking classes at KPC for years, she said she might as well work there.
"It makes you feel good that you're giving back to the community," she said. "For all the years you've been in school, now you've got a chance to help somebody."
For Albright, teaching ESL gives her a different perspective on being a non-English speaking person in the United States. One of her pet peeves is when people ask, "Why can't they just learn English?"
"There are many more people trying to learn to speak English," she said, adding that her classes as well as the tutoring services the Learning Center provides are free to community members. "I can't imagine trying to learn Chinese. Volunteers always learn just as much (as the students), but in a different way."
Jessica Cejnar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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